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MCT: Democrats: Tax cuts will lead to school funding cuts

10/4/2012

By BRENT D. WISTROM

By BRENT D. WISTROM

The Wichita Eagle

TOPEKA (MCT) — The massive income tax cuts that kick in Jan. 1 could lead to huge cuts in education funding, Democratic leaders in the Statehouse said Tuesday.

The idea that tax cuts will hurt schools, pushed repeatedly by Democrats, is nothing new.

But new data Democrats sought from state researchers give a fresh look at how state services could be cut if the projected revenue losses stemming from the tax cut come true and the state decides to proportionately reduce spending across all agencies, a move Gov. Sam Brownback said won't happen.

According to the new figures, K-12 schools could lose $750 million between fiscal years 2014 and 2017.

Brownback has said he'll protect schools from deep cuts as the result of the tax cuts for businesses and individuals.

But Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, and House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said that given the overall projected deficits of $4.5 billion over the next six years, they don't believe schools won't face reductions in state funding.

Lawmakers are poised to reopen the debate on tax cuts at the start of the 2013 legislative session in January because of several flaws in the language of the bill that concern accountants.

With a landslide of victories for conservative Republicans in the August primary, Democrats and moderate Republicans who have criticized the tax cuts are unlikely to have enough votes to dramatically change the tax cut law.

But Hensley said he hopes to restore the food sales tax rebate, which refunds sales tax from groceries to low-income Kansans.

He acknowledged that restoring that would only take more revenue away from state coffers, but he and Davis said the tax cuts benefit the richest Kansans most and could hurt the neediest Kansans as services are reduced.

Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag defended the governor's financial decisions, saying "No amount of inaccurate scare tactics will changes the facts. For the first time in years Kansas is adding jobs. We turned a $500-million deficit into a $500-million ending balance."

Democratic leaders also questioned Brownback's appointments to a task force charged with finding efficiencies in Kansas schools, noting he didn't name a single teacher or administrator to the panel.

The Republican governor named task force members last week, saying he was concerned that schools aren't spending enough money on classroom instruction. Several accountants, a State Board of Education member and the governor's budget director were appointed to the panel.

Democrats said that it would have been proper to include at least one teacher or administrator to get input from people who work inside schools.

"All you have to do is look at the members who have been appointed to this task force to question its real purpose," Davis said. "It seems to me that if you want to study education, you should probably consult with educators."

Jones-Sontag said the governor wanted a task force with expertise in finance and spending.

Brownback's administration maintains that school districts aren't spending 65 percent of state aid on classroom instruction as required by law. Democrats counter that districts are hitting the 65 percent target.

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